The Lord promised that while the disciples were in the world they would have tribulation (John 16:33), yet He also told them to look on the fields that were ready to be harvested to eternal glory (John 4:35). When put together, these two principles describe much of what we call missionary work. Like a farmer trying to harvest his crop in a hurricane, so the missionary sees value in one soul despite the storms of distress that rage around him.
South Africa has had a long, tumultuous history of segregation, diversity, violence, and pain, each of which causes barriers to conveying the gospel in a cross-cultural setting. It is a country where a host of various people groups live in a united country, yet, for the most part, live in distinct regions. It is a place where nuclear power generation is on the same block as an informal settlement, where a doctor can be the guy who saves your life in the hospital or the one who contacts the spirits on your behalf.
Of all the African people groups in South Africa, the Lord has called us to work among the Xhosa, who make up about 18% of the total population of South Africa and who number about eight million. Our province of the Eastern Cape is their traditional land and it is one of the poorest regions in the country. We have served the Lord in Fort Beaufort specifically since 2006 and the spiritual ground has been very hard. There is a general syncretism of Christianity and African Traditional Religion (ATR). Often, Christianity is professed with the mouth but ATR is believed in the heart and seen in actions. Such an environment is a spiritual minefield and we are cast on the Lord for His wisdom.
Our first five years in Fort Beaufort met with a large amount of disappointment. In retrospect, much of the disappointment was a result of unrealistic expectations and the classic missionary mistake that if we don’t see God working quickly enough, then the missionary must work harder which in turn only increases expectations. After dealing with missionary burnout, God gave us help to put our trust in Him and not in our own strength.
Two and a half years ago was a turning point in the work in Fort Beaufort. We had been struggling to find a suitable place to hold gospel meetings on a regular basis. It was confusing to many people in the community how we could do church work when we lacked a “church” building. The Lord generously used some North American believers to purchase a house that we were able to renovate and use for gospel outreach and community assistance. We called the building Ikhaya leVangeli – the house of the gospel. Shortly after we started holding regular meetings, we also began a small social outreach called the Young Men’s Supper. We provided a nice meal and gospel message on Wednesday afternoons at 4pm. Weekly, we fed between 30 to 60 young men between the ages of 12 and 20. This work set the tone for Ikhaya leVangeli. It is known as a place where young men are welcome. In Xhosa communities in South Africa, church is primarily seen as a woman’s activity. Many denominational churches would have 80 or 90% women in their congregations and virtually no young men or boys. Yet, at Ikhaya leVangeli we have the exact opposite! Only a percentage of those who attended the Young Men’s Supper would attend our regular gospel meeting on Sunday morning, but for those who did, we were able to forge important relationships. In August 2011 we had to stop the Young Men’s Supper but a core group of about 15 young men continued attending the services and outreach activities.
In October 2011 the Lord’s work in Fort Beaufort changed again. After a regular Sunday gospel meeting at which a young Canadian visitor, Levi Wells, and I were preaching, one of the faithful attendees asked to speak to me before leaving. He then explained that during the preaching he had accepted the Lord’s forgiveness and been saved! After five years of preaching in the streets, distributing literature, sharing the gospel wherever we could, finally someone was saved. With grateful hearts we praised God for His mercy and grace. In the months that followed several other young men professed salvation and one young lady in her late teens told us she had gotten saved a few months earlier in July! At the end of January 2012 we held our first baptism.
Since this initial movement by the Spirit of God all has not been easy. At times we were quite aware of Satan’s attacks on God’s work and we felt frustrated and down cast; also the burden of trying to shepherd and spiritually guide a growing flock of young believers in such a dark environment took a toll on us. One or two who professed haven’t manifested as clear a testimony as we would like to see but we are grateful that most have. Even recently we’ve seen evidence that God is working as others have professed salvation as well and are showing signs of true spiritual life.
At present we would greatly value your prayers for wisdom to shepherd these young believers. Also, Xhosa boys at age 19 or 20 must pass through an ancestrally based ritual of circumcision. This event lies before all of our young men, thus they need our prayers as they negotiate their Christian faith with ATR family members. Please pray for the salvation of our own children and for wisdom as we seek the Lord’s direction about decisions that need to be made for their education.
In a land of barrenness and spiritual darkness where ancestral worship is supreme, the light of the gospel has broken through and souls have been translated into the Kingdom of the Son of His love.